Weird pre-game rituals— it’s a thing. Earlier in the season, we talked about Rickard Hugg and Riley Damiani eating their pre-game half a bag of snap peas, but we haven’t spoken about Michael Vukojevic.
“The guys think I’m weird, but I take a cold tub right before I put my gear on. Oh, and I also take four showers on game day,” Michael said with a grin. “Get rid of the old dirt, new sheet, clean slate. I heard Patrick Marleau does it, so I was like hey if it works for him maybe I’ll try it.”
Whatever works, right? The 17-year-old Oakville, ON native, is wise beyond his years. His commitment to the Rangers and the community on and off the ice is something he should be proud of. But he won’t be the one to tell you that, his humble demeanour is a characteristic some veteran NHL players have yet to achieve.
“I don’t want to say I’m a humble guy because that might be cocky, but being in the community is so important to me. I was a kid once, and I looked up to players in the OHL and I thought they were the biggest deal in the world, seeing them or getting a puck from them made my day,” said Michael. “I always try to make sure I hit every kid’s hand in high-five alley because I don’t want any kid to feel left out.”
Not a whole lot of 17-year-olds have that mindset. Being in the OHL and all the pressures that come along with it tend to push players to grow up a little faster than the average teenager.
“You only play hockey for so long, and I think what you do away from the rink is going to be what separates you because not everyone is a great person off the ice,” Michael said humbly. “I strive to be a good person, because I know I’m more than just a hockey player.”
Vukojevic credits a lot to his parents and how they brought him up. Whether it was taking him to 5:00 am practices or driving 16 hours even when he wasn’t playing just to see him, Michael was always supported. Talking about his parents and their support makes him tear up.
“My parents mean so much to me. The support and belief that they have in me and all they have sacrificed so I can play is unbelievable,” said Michael. “I’m speechless talking about it. The things they do, there are no words to describe it.”
Michael knows how crucial his family’s support is to his success, especially in his draft year. The added outside pressures are evident and there are a lot of opinions that you have to be able to tune out.
“I think the pressure can either break people or make them stronger. I am hoping it is going to make me stronger and help me become a better hockey player and better person,” said Michael. “I mean, I kind of like the pressure. It’s a little bit of extra motivation for me to take my game to the next level and evolve as a player.”
Being able to have a close relationship with Riley Damiani has been a huge help to Vukojevic. He can bounce questions off Riley and see that someone else has gone through what he is going through and made the ultimate goal—getting drafted in the NHL Entry Draft.
“My whole support system always tells me that I can only control what I can control and let the rest take care of itself,” said Vukojevic. “I always try to not get too high on the highs or low on the lows. There are going to be off days, but if you are strong enough, you can overcome those obstacles.”
Michael’s ultimate on-ice goal is to make the NHL, but his off-ice goal is one that he is proud to strive for.
“I want to have a happy life after hockey because I think one of the most important things in life is your happiness. Whether I’m working an office job or in the community as long as I’m happy I believe I’ll have a good life. Without happiness, nothing else really matters.”